Three points but complaints about our performance. Fourth in the league, yet harsh words for our manager. A strike force that sets up and scores a goal, but that’s not enough. Yep, all the hallmarks of a Spurs fan’s blog.
The minute’s silence for Poppy Day was respected by all except about a third of the West Stand boxes. Confronted by a proud parade of soldiers, cruelly let down by politicians but heroically prepared to do their duty for queen and country in pursuit of a futile, unwinnable war in Afghanistan, they remained resolutely seated throughout. I have always suspected that it is another world in the moneyed gallery of sponsors and the wealthy at play, and clearly these folk believe that being sealed behind a thin slice of smoked plexi-glass protects them from not only the rest of the fans but also from the moral values of compassion and humility.
Both teams lined up in unfamiliar formations. Spurs set out three across the midfield with Keane behind Defoe and Crouch up front, while Sunderland compensated for the absence of Jones, Cattermole and Cana by having Campbell drifting wide right but working to get to the lone striker Bent and allowing further support from other midfielders. Plenty of discussion continued amongst the players for the first half as the teams sought to settle down, with the benches frequently joining in. Harry was more active than usual. Often Bond or Jordan do the shouting whilst Harry remains in the comfort of his heated seat, twitching and glum, but judging by what followed, it is doubtful if the tic tac man’s gesticulating made any sense.
After a stuttering opening, the early goal was welcome. A classic big man/little man striker’s combination, Benny’s lovely curling cross to the far post was headed back by Crouch for Keane to run onto. He tried hard to miss from inside the six yard box but bundled it past the keeper. The absence of an offside flag produced pleasant surprise from the home fans and fury from the Sunderland supporters, whose anger at the referee’s performance grew steadily as the game progressed. No replay was shown at the time, usually a sure sign of a dodgy call, but the big screen proved at half-time that the run was timed perfectly.
Far from the goal settling Spurs, our first half then proceeded to degenerate, apart from a few promising flashes from Keane and JJ, and Sunderland wasted several opportunities. Ours was a dreadful display, disjointed and decrepit, as poor as anything I have seen since Ramos left. Passes continually went astray as the man in possession looked in vain for support. The pressure was alleviated occasionally when Keane dropped back to get something going but our moves were thwarted by a consistently wasteful final ball. Jenas was at his frustrating best and worst, moving purposefully to intercept and drive forward only to fail with the final pass, whilst Crouch was, with a few notable exceptions, uncoordinated and the ball-control of a brick wall.
Three in midfield was a total failure. Sunderland easily outnumbered us with their four or at times five, whilst the lack of width was further compounded by the full-backs’ unwillingness or inability to run into the space on the flanks. On the few occasions Benny did venture upfield, he produced effective crosses – more please. However, neither he nor Corluka (who had a bad game) did not enthusiastically embrace the attacking possibilities as would, say, Cole or Evra, or even Hutton, who hammer forward as the need arises. Palacios was another with a low rating. His domain is firmly centre midfield, so he is wasted on the left, whilst Hud struggled to get going, until later that is.
Fielding Keane in the hole makes the best use of his talents. He can both make and take chances, he’s clever with the angles, aware of what is happening around him and, moving late into danger areas, has the intelligence to find precious space in the box. However, this should not be at the expense of the shape of the team. To accommodate this role, Jenas and Palacios were forced out of position and our defensive-minded full backs did not compensate. Keane’s positioning unbalanced the entire team and this should not be allowed to happen again. On other days, with a different referee and if opponents had taken chances, it would have led to defeat. This is not so much about how Keane plays – he did well enough at times, and I haven’t forgotten his goal. With this squad, the man in the hole simply does not work.
Harry recognised the problem, moving Keane to the left after the break. But Keane for all his effort is not a left sided midfielder, so still the team was unbalanced and the standard remained low. He is then substituted, again, and immediately we look better as Kranjcar came up with an excellent cameo, full of accurate penetrative passing and good support play.
The real point is, we know all this already. We have seen this season that Keane is not a left midfielder, neither is WP, that Corluka doesn’t do overlapping, that 4-4-2 is our thing. So why expect that today would be different? Harry is a strong man, not weighed by sentiment however he may present himself in the media, but the feeling that he is trying to shoehorn Keane, Defoe and Crouch into the same team is inescapable. From now on, either Keane plays up front (with either strike partner) or he does not play.
Although Kranjcar’s arrival bucked us up and we finished on a high note, the real turning point was of course Gomes’ penalty save. That Darren Bent, chucking himself over, and there’s me thinking he was such a nice quiet boy… Other refs would have sent Gomes off, although the booking was right. The business of keepers diving at attackers’ feet is so fraught these days, I actually feel for referees. It’s so quick and cheating, or bending the rules, or making the most of an opportunity, whichever way you choose to perceive it, is now an expectation for forwards, who, if they remain on their feet, are subject to almost as much comment as the referees, however they decide.
Whatever, he galvanised both the players and the crowd, following the penalty with a series of fine saves. He’s learning: witness the save at the foot of the right hand post from a header, where he not only dropped quickly and low but decisively pushed the ball away from the oncoming forward to avoid a rebounded tap-in. This as much as the penalty shows his awareness, confidence and presence of mind.
Then a wonderful strike from Hud, thrillingly rising for all of the twenty yards into the roof of the net. A great goal, frankly out of keeping with our performance. He then became a man inspired, full of energy, purpose and guile, although the suspicion nags away, why does he need a boost like this before he plays so well? It is significant that he was pushed further forward during the final quarter of the game. Although this may waste his long passing ability, I believe he is more effective in this role, released from defensive burdens to slot the ball into the gaps and to shoot dangerously.
The game closed with some gleeful Bent-baiting, comparing him unfavourably with his nemesis Sandra. Oh what fun we had: three points but in the long run some hard lessons to be learned.